I Capture the Carpet

"There is not a piece of constructive legislation in the world, not a solitary attempt to meet a complicated problem, that we do not now regard more charitably for our efforts to get a right result from this apparently easy and peurile business of fighting with tin soldiers on the floor."
H G Wells, Little Wars

I've had a few days off this week after my kidney-stone adventures, and Sam decided it would be therapeutic for me to spend the time helping him make Warhammer scenery.  This seemed like a good excuse to photograph some of the ever-expanding armies which are slowly invading every flat surface in his bedroom and my office.

The craze began at the end of last year, with Warhammer goblins vs some magnificent (and considerably cheaper) Warlord Games Romans.  I'd have liked to get Sam playing Celts, but apparently Boadicea in a war-chariot and her hordes of hairy warriors aren't thrilling enough for the youth of today.  Still, I suppose these wierd little greenies whirling their unfeasible chain-maces are rather jolly...

(Here we see them struggling for control of a Pictish standing stone which was actually my consolation prize for not winning the Angus Book Award a few years ago.)

But oh dear, just as I was starting to get my head around the arcane Warhammer rules (do they really need to be that complicated?) Sam was seduced by the futuristic variant, Warhammer 40,000.  He inherited a shoebox full of assorted tanks and figures, and now the goblins are getting some R&R while space nazis with guns the size of crocodiles battle it out against, er... other space nazis with guns the size of crocodiles. 

I get to play and paint the orcs (or 'orks' as games Workshop has taken to calling them), whose huge, rusty guns and ramshackle fighting machines wouldn't look at all out of place in the WoME.  Unfortunately they never seem to actually hit anything, and most of our battles end with them fleeing in disarray before Sam's unstoppable hand-me-down armoured divisions.

"Get back to work, Reeve!"
But not to worry; they look fantastic, and painting them has put me in the mood to start painting some pictures of my own again, the first time I've felt like doing that for about ten years.  If they turn out well I'll post some on the blog.  If not, I'll go back to playing with toy soldiers on the floor.  Maybe if these chaps had some kind of tank...

Creative Destruction

A dustbin, yesterday.
Eagle-eyed readers of this blog may have spotted that bits of it vanish from time to time.  I do hate clutter, so I have a habit of going through my books and belongings every so often and chucking out the stuff that I don't feel I need any more.  This periodic cull makes sense in the real world, since I have a smallish house that would soon be stuffed to the eaves with books and paper if I didn't keep it pretty ruthlessly under control.  And while I suspect that there's not really any danger of me actually filling up the internet, old habits die hard, so I like to scroll down this blog every six weeks or so and delete anything that I no longer 'know to be useful or feel to be beautiful', (to quote William Morris, though if that was really his attitude it's hard to see how all those hideous wallpaper designs survived).  There are a few old pieces which I'm fond of for one reason or another, and book and film reviews seem worth keeping for a while, but I can't believe that anybody's interested now in my witterings about the UK elections (if they ever were) so out they've gone.  I stand by the spirit of my piece on steampunk ('combining elements of the past and the future to create something that's not quite as good as either'*) but the writing was shabby, so to blazes with it, along with the piece on Hollywood's treatment of books.  Stuff about Christmas, New Year and the Big Freeze seems old hat in this sweltering summer, so bang, bang, bang goes the 'delete' button and each is whisked away.  They all survive, presumably, as data ghosts in odd nooks and crannies of the internet, but I'd have no idea how to retrieve them even if I wanted to; to me they are out of sight, out of mind, and good bloomin' riddance**.

I actually find it quite enjoyable, this casting off of the old.  It's something that I've practised since my college days, when frequent moves from one bedsit to another made it difficult to hang on to anything but absolute favourites.  I do sometimes wish I'd kept a sketchbook or two from those days, or the set of illustrations based on Jabberwocky that I laboured over through one entire summer holiday, but I don't suppose they were actually half as good as I remember, and think of the space they'd take up.

The same applies to all the short stories I wrote in those days (when I started at art college I set myself the challenge of writing one story a week, and kept it up for most of my first year): it was the writing that was important, not the ropey, derivative, finished articles.  I can remember the rare good ideas, and now and again I'll retrieve one and use it.  The rest is better as landfill, or ash, or whatever form those heaps of scribbly notebooks ended up in.

A few years ago a fellow author e-mailed to tell me that he'd just presented all his manuscripts and working drafts to a university, and received a sizeable tax rebate in exchange.  As I read his message I was aware of smoke drifting past the windows, coming from the large bonfire in the garden where I'd just set light to all the longhand drafts and early typescripts of Mortal Engines and Predator's Gold.  'Oops', I thought.  But not for very long.  The thing about working drafts is that I don't want other people reading them; I'd hate the idea of them being preserved in a collection somewhere.  Mortal Engines is the thing you can (hopefully) find on the shelves of your local bookshop or library, or (soon) download as an e-book.  The page-upon-page of wrong turnings and blind alleys which went into its creation were only clutter.  Far better to throw them away, and press on to the next project***.

* As The Mighty Boosh once said, in a slightly different context.

**Needless to say, none of this slash'n'burn stuff will be going on over at The Solitary Bee, where all the posts will be archived and kept for Ever and Ever.  Of course, a lot of the articles there are not by me, so I don't feel the same urge to his cmd A delete.  If you've not already seen it, click on the link to read Philip Womack's piece on Sonic Youth, Jeremy Levett's film reviews and Justin Hill's account of life in Thailand.  I hope there will be more from all of them, and from new contributors, soon.

***In keeping with this spirit, this post will probably be deleted in a week or two.

Boys and Girls

The Bookzone for Boys ran a nice piece by Sarwat Chadda recently in which he dismisses the theory that boys won't read books whose leading character is a girl.  It's still a surprisingly common assumption, despite all the evidence to the contrary, and although girl heroes are pretty common in children's books now a lot of the low-end spies'n'dinosaurs series titles which are aimed at boy's of Sam's age still barely feature female characters at all, except perhaps a mum to provide a packed lunch for the protagonists before they set off on missions or adventures.

It's not an attitude I've ever really understood.  When I was a boy I always preferred books that had heroines; especially tough, brave or resourceful heroines like Elionwy in Lloyd Alexander's Prydain books, or all the girls in Swallows and Amazons*.  Books which didn't have such heroines (like The Lord of the Rings whenever Eowyn's not around) always seemed to me to be missing a trick.  When I tried to write a book without a heroine myself (No Such Thing As Dragons) one crept in anyway.  And when I tried to write a limp 19th Century heroine prone to embroidery and fits of the vapours (Myrtle in Larklight) she turned out to have a peculiar strength of her own and kept taking over the story.

So I'm in complete agreement with Mr Chadda that boys will happily read books with girl leads.  But I do wonder - and this is more of a stray thought than a settled opinion - whether all these tough heroines don't represent a particularly male fantasy.  Boys like them, but do many girls?  I've had lots of conversations with, and letters from, girls who love Hester, but I suspect they're a minority, and that her basic appeal is to boys.  I'm always aware of the danger that, in writing a character like her, you may end up not with a girl lead at all, but with a boy in disguise.

I think the success of the Twilight series feeds into this debate.  I have to admit  that I've not read Stephanie Meyer's books, and have no particular opinion of them.  I know of Twilight only from the film (which was... odd) and from all the (often very funny) attacks which people keep inflicting on it, like this one (right). (Gosh, it's hated.  If people got as hot under the collar about the war in Afghanistan as they do about Twilight, governments would have fallen and the troops been brought home years ago.)  Readers whose opinions I respect assure me that the books are very badly written, and received wisdom tells me that the heroine, Bella, is a mimsy, flimsy doormat who is obsessed with, and ordered around by, Edward Cullen*, her vampire boyfriend.  But the books' massive popularity among teenage girls is undeniable, and suggests that Bella is providing something which Buffy and the other kick-ass heroines who have dominated popular culture lately don't.  I suspect that a lot of girl readers like to identify with a character who is emotionally fragile and self-absorbed; more worried about romance and rejection than revenge and rocket launchers.

This doesn't mean that I'll be trying to write more Bella-ish heroines myself, much as I'd love my sales figures to equal even 1% of Ms Meyer's.  The girls who emerge from my imagination alway seem as tough as old nails.  Cluny Morvish, the new female protagonist in Scrivener's Moon, is as gung-ho as any of them, riding to hounds and gamely leading mammoth-charges against squadrons of the Movement's landships.  She's just the sort of girl boys like to read about...

*(I know Susan is a bit mumsy, but her top-notch tent-pitching and fire-lighting skills mean that she's still far more tough and resourceful than me)

*Did there not used be a chain of grocery shops in London called Cullens?  For some reason I always associate his name with almond croissants.


I've just noticed that it's twenty-nine years to the minute since I first watched Excalibur, after which I was never quite the same again.  So by way of celebration here's a nice trailer that I found on YouTube.